Cheryl dedicated the day to her grandparents and to her parents, Bill and Loreta Seidner. She then led the entire audience in singing her “coming home” song.
Everyone in the audience received a keychain commemorating the event as they left. Many stayed to talk and eat cold cuts and cake. It was a happy day, and there were many tears in the audience.
"I was so surprised to see so many people," Cheryl said later. "I did not realize what it meant to a lot of people. I knew what it meant to me." She remarked on the emotion she saw there, for example from her co-workers at Humboldt State University, where she is an administrator for the Economic Opportunity Program. "I still haven't absorbed what a big thing it was. I took it as a matter of fact. The island was always ours. We just needed a piece a paper to say it." But she acknowledged that she also got emotional towards the end, when she mentioned her parents. "That's when I almost lost it. Because most of what I do, I always think of my parents. How would they do this? They were such good people, and I miss them greatly. Even though they've been gone almost all of my adult life, I still depend on their opinion."
But as important and truly historic as this event was, "it isn't the end," Cheryl said. "It's only the beginning." Her goal now is to "get the island to a point where we can put a dance on it." The first will probably be demonstration dance, a celebration, she thought. The winter dances require a dance house, and though one is planned, it's a little farther in the future. "We have to raise money for that."
For now, there is the continuing work of cleaning up the land damaged by various uses over the years, including a boat-building facility. "We've removed 33 tons of scrap metal from the island already," she said, "and we still have to clean up some of the hot spots. But it's not as bad as we thought it might be."
Just as importantly, the Wiyot have to prepare themselves to dance again. Dance families from the Hupa, Yurok and Karuk have come forward to help, Cheryl said. But "none of our former dance families have the dresses" or other regalia. "We pray there will be young men and women who will come forward and say, 'teach me, let me learn.' This is the beginning of the rediscovery of who we are. "
As executive director of the Seventh Generation Fund headquartered in Arcata, Chris Peters hoped that returning even this much of Indian Island to the Wiyot will influence the future of Humboldt Bay. "Indian Island is geographically and historically significant," he said," a place that has been considered sacred and used for spiritual purposes for thousands of years before non-Native people came to this area, and before any churches or synagogues or other buildings used for worship by any denomination were constructed. With the transfer back to Native ownership, we're hoping that this place will be given its due respect, and the development around it on Humboldt Bay will be done in such a way that shows respect for this significant place of prayer."
"Likewise, throughout California, similar land transfers need to happen," he added, "and sacred lands need to be managed as sacred places: sacred for everything and for all people."
As for his participation and the ride across Humboldt Bay in the redwood dugout, Chris said, " It was a fantastic event and I was really honored to be part of it."
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